Garden Journal Series: The Art of Garden Design

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner


Garden Journal

Starting a garden journal — like the act of planting a seed — is a moment when expectations meet the elements. It is impossible to know just how it will turn out, but it is hard to go wrong.

A good garden journal is like an archive, an intimate record of your garden and gardening experiences. The notes, snapshots, plant-tags, empty seed packets, and pressed flowers that find their way into the pages of a garden journal make it much more than a diary.

This year, I’m starting a new gardening journal. I plan to record the triumphs — and some of the failures — of my garden, and the pleasures and frustrations along the way. Like my garden, I hope the journal will change and develop through the seasons, and that it will be full of texture and color. I expect it will be a place to play with ideas, to escape from the busy world, and to observe, at a little distance, my relationship with my garden.

I’m starting my journal, and the new year, not with a list of resolutions but with a theme: garden design.

Casual Corner Garden Design

Every garden has a basic shape, sketched by the boundaries of the property and the footprint of the house and any other buildings on the lot. A sidewalk, the front walk, and perhaps a driveway carve lines of their own onto the plan. The garden somehow fits into this basic framework.


Design for Flower Pots

Garden designers like to start with a master plan for your whole property, but if you’re just starting out in garden design, choose an easy project. Sketch a planting plan for the beds on either side of the front door, or even for a single flowerpot. Design the pattern of bricks for a new patio. Your drawings do not have to be detailed, or even accurate. What they should do is inspire you.


Sketch Plan


I am inspired by the colorful paper cuts made by the great artist Henri Matisse, by the fantastic plans made by the Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, and by quilts. Of course, my flower beds don’t really look like Matisse paper cuts (unless you squint), but his bold strokes gave me the idea that got me started on something, and that’s the main thing.

Computer Drawn Garden Layout


If you favor something more formal, use graph paper and draw your garden to scale. I’m certainly not against it — and I know scale drawings make it easier to plan accurately.


Explore the possibilities of garden design on a few blank pages in your journal, and you will have launched a new year in the garden without digging a single hole. Squiggle a few lines on paper, snip some shapes and spin them this way and that. It is fun to see your ideas take shape on paper. Anticipating the season ahead is part of the pleasure of gardening.